What happens when someone dies in hospital?

Doctor showing a patient a computer screen in a hospital

When someone dies in hospital the doctors who treated them will follow a procedure. They follow these steps to give you the practical support you need leading up to the funeral arrangements.

This procedure following a death in hospital is to make sure:

We’ve listed the steps the hospital staff follow below. That way, you know what to expect and what to do when someone dies in hospital.

What is the procedure after a death in a hospital?

Some hospitals may have bereavement staff that you can talk to about what happens next. If not, the ward staff will take you through the procedure after a death in the hospital. Here’s an idea of what you can expect.

Hospital staff will tell next of kin about the death

When a person dies in hospital the staff will contact the next of kin as soon as possible to let them know what’s happened. You or someone else close to the person may need to go to the hospital to identify the person.

If you’re with the person when they die in hospital the staff will arrange for you to spend some time at their bedside before they’re taken to the mortuary.

They may talk to you about organ donation

What if the person who died was an organ donor? The transplant coordinator at the hospital will speak to you soon after the person dies. If the person who died is registered as an organ donor and eligible to help someone else the staff will have to move quickly. But don’t worry. They’ll always respect your beliefs and your final decision.

What if your loved one wasn’t registered as an organ donor? If you know they’d want to donate their organs let the hospital staff know. They may still be able to help someone else even if the person who died isn’t registered as an organ donor. 

You can learn more about giving permission for organ donation on the NHS website.

The doctor will confirm cause of death

The doctor will confirm the cause of death if it’s known. They can then give you a medical certificate so that you can register the death. The doctor will give you the medical certificate in an envelope addressed to the local Registry Office or they’ll send it straight over to the Registry Office electronically. You’ll also be given more information on how to register the death.

Keep in mind that any forms that the doctor needs to fill out may take a little time. This is because it must only be done by the staff members that treated the patient. Most doctors and nurses work in shift patterns. So don’t worry if you don’t get all the documents you need immediately. The staff know that you’ll want to register the death and start funeral arrangements soon so they’ll always try to issue the medical certificate as soon as they can.

But what if the cause of death is unclear?

The staff may ask to carry out a post-mortem exam at the hospital. The next of kin needs to give permission for this. You can discuss what will happen with the staff before agreeing to it. It may help you to know that when the hospital staff carry out a post-mortem it can help them treat patients with similar injuries or conditions in the future.

If you agree to a post-mortem the report will be given to your GP within 6 weeks. And if you want to, you can talk about the findings with the doctor in charge of the patient, especially if you have any concerns.

What if a coroner gets involved?

If the cause of death is sudden or unnatural a coroner may need to carry out a post-mortem or inquest. The coroner usually carries out the post-mortem 2 to 3 working days after the death. But the reports can take weeks, even months to be finished. Keep this in mind as it may delay registering the death. This is because you’ll only receive the documents you need to register the death once the coroner’s reports have been done.

In the meantime you can get an interim death certificate from the coroner’s office. This will allow you to contact banks, insurance companies and other organisations to let them know about the person’s death. If you need help with this you can contact the Coroner’s Courts Support Service for free advice.

The body will be kept safe

When someone dies in hospital they’ll usually be washed and kept in the hospital mortuary. They’ll be kept there until you arrange for them to be collected by a family member or funeral director. You may have to sign forms at the hospital for a funeral director to collect the body. Depending on the funeral arrangements the funeral director may take them to a chapel of rest or you may decide to take them home so that other family members can say goodbye before the funeral service.

Their personal belongings will be safely stored

Staff at the hospital will keep the person’s belongings safe until the person responsible for organising the estate collects them. Some hospitals will give you a receipt once you collect belongings. You could wait until the doctor issues the medical certificate so that you can collect their belongings and the certificate at the same time.

Check with the hospital to see if they have an appointment system. Book an appointment that works for you so that you can pick up the documents you need to register the death as well as any personal belongings.

Next steps to take after someone dies in hospital

You’ll need to take the medical certificate to your local Registry Office and register the death within 5 days. But this doesn’t apply if the coroner gets involved. If that happens, you’ll need to wait longer for the medical certificate.

You may also want to start contacting funeral directors. Make sure you contact a few different funeral homes to compare options and prices. Depending on which type of funeral you’re planning you may find that costs differ a lot from one funeral director to another. Use our funeral director finder to get started.

When you’re busy making funeral arrangements remember to take some time for yourself too. You can find free counselling services with Cruse Bereavement Support. You can speak to their counsellors online or call them on 0808 808 1677 to get the support you need.

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Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
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What is a Direct Cremation?

A Direct Cremation is an alternative to the traditional funeral. This involves the cremation of the deceased without a funeral service. A Direct Cremation is generally the most economic option because costs of the coffin, preparation of the body, funeral service and expensive transportation are not included. However, many people choose Direct Cremations for reasons other than expense, for example:

  • - Wanting to have a memorial at a different time to the cremation
  • - Expressed desire from the deceased to not have a ceremony
  • - Individuals with relatives who face big physical or geographical challenges in coming together for a ceremony

The prices quoted for Direct Cremations include:

  • All charges, meetings and paperwork for the cremation
  • Collection of deceased and care prior to cremation
  • A simple coffin and urn for the ashes
  • Cremation fees and delivery of ashes to the family
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Attended funeral

This is Funeral Choice’s best estimate of this Funeral Director’s fees for an Attended Funeral, which is where family and friends have a ceremony or service for the deceased person at the same time as they attend their burial or cremation.

This price includes the following:

  • Taking care of all necessary legal and administrative arrangements
  • Collecting and transporting the deceased person from the place of death (normally within 15 miles of the funeral director’s premises) into the funeral director’s care
  • Care of the deceased person before the funeral in appropriate facilities.
  • Providing a suitable coffin
  • Optional viewing of the deceased person for family and friends, by appointment with the funeral director
  • At a date and time you agree with the funeral director, taking the deceased person direct to the agreed cemetery or crematorium (normally within 20 miles of the funeral director’s premises) in a hearse or other appropriate vehicle

In addition to the Funeral Director’s fee, there will be third party costs to consider (sometimes called disbursements) to cover the other aspects of a funeral (such as the crematorium or burial fees). Your chosen Funeral Director will be able to provide these for you.

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Unattended funeral

This is Funeral Choice’s best estimate of this Funeral Director’s fees and the crematorium fee for an Unattended Funeral, which is where family and friends may choose to have a ceremony, event or service for the deceased person, but they do not attend the burial or cremation itself. This is also known as a Direct Cremation.

This price includes the following:

  • Funeral Director's fees
  • Crematorium fee (for an unattended funeral) as selected by the Funeral Director

In addition to this fee, there might be additional third party costs to consider (sometimes called disbursements). Your chosen Funeral Director will be able to explain these for you.

If you wish to attend the funeral, you should view the “Attended Funeral” price instead.

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Why is this price Estimated?

We work hard to ensure the Funeral Director Fees we display are accurate and up to date. However, unlike with our partners, we cannot guarantee this price is correct today.

Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
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Funeral Choice charity donation

To redeem the £20 charity donation all you have to do is select the charity from the dropdown list in the Make Contact form. Once you have confirmed arrangements with that funeral director send us an email to info@yourfuneralchoice.com confirming the service has been arranged. After we receive this email we will make the donation to the chosen charity and confirm back to you.

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